Faculty senators will meet next week for the first time since a push for a “no confidence” vote was proposed against UWG president Dr. Brendan Kelly.
Friday was the deadline for submissions to the agenda for a Oct. 16 meeting of the University of West Georgia; a finalized agenda is expected by Wednesday. One item that could appear is the “no confidence” vote.
The vote was proposed by the anonymous authors of a petition entitled “An Indictment of President Kelly for Issues of Shared Governance and Mismanagement of the University of West Georgia.”
The petition is the latest in a series of frustrations from both faculty and students, which all date back to Nov. 2019 — before Kelly became president — when letters were sent to faculty warning them that their positions at the university might not be renewed.
The non-renewal letters were issued under the tenure of interim president Dr. Michael Crafton, and they sparked a series of protests and other actions by faculty and students. Crafton stepped down from the interim post; Kelly became president in March.
The problems affecting the university, which is one of the county’s largest employers, is due, in a word, to money. Too little money coming in from freshmen enrollments; and money being cut from the state budget for all Georgia’s public universities.
Documents obtained by the Times-Georgian in 2019 showed that freshman enrollment had declined, particularly during Fall 2019, when more than 500 fewer students enrolled than had been expected.
The FY2020 budget was reduced by $3.1 million to account for that loss in undergraduate tuition, and that cut was said to be permanent for the next five years.
The loss of that revenue forced the University to begin to make budget cuts, which the administration prepared for by issuing the non-renewal letters to faculty, in accordance with timeline rules in the faculty handbook. At the time, and for the following few weeks, it was unknown how many letters were sent.
These letters caused protests by students showing their support of their instructors, followed by a series of meetings and forums in which faculty discussed the uncertainty surrounding the situation and pleaded for transparency.
At the time, the university was also in search of a replacement for its former president, Kyle Marrero, and Crafton had taken over as interim president in early 2019.
In late Nov. following the protests, Crafton announced his resignation from the interim post and was replaced in December by another interim president, Dr. Stuart Rayfield.
As Rayfield took the reins of UWG, things died down on campus as she explained that UWG was still “healthy” and “strong” and though cuts had to be made, overall the situation was not an “institutional crisis.”
Kelly was later announced as the new president of UWG, and while he was slated to begin April 1, he began earlier than expected because Rayfield felt that, “it is imperative we have leadership focused on the long-term implications of each decision that must be made and what the strategy will be to address each challenge.”
Up until this point, while tension was simmering at the university, none was due to Kelly, as he had only just begun. The start of his administration has seen a restructuring of the university, as he explained in a previous interview that he is looking at the university’s future in the long term.
In addition to the challenges of restructuring, the start of his administration also coincides with unprecedented challenges, with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent budget reductions forced by the state legislature.
The latest change, or restructuring and reorganization, was announced over the summer. This was in part due to a call from the state legislature to reduce over $9 million from the FY2021 budget.
Approximately $1.2 million was anticipated to be saved by the “reorganization and modernization of Academic Affairs.” As a part of the reorganization, three colleges would be consolidated into one.
These colleges are the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Science and Mathematics, and the College of Social Sciences. The new proposed unified college would focus on four departments, Natural Sciences and Math, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, and Film, Media, and Communications.
The University College was also expanded to include three departments and consist of four areas: General Education, Civic Engagement and Public Service, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Student Success.
Interim provost David Jenks explained to the Times-Georgian on Tuesday that the process actually started last year, in April or May of 2019, where administrators and staff met over summer 2019 to discuss changes at the university.
That group met to determine the path forward and in Fall 2019, a full committee of faculty, staff, and administrators was formed. This committee submitted a report that was provided to Kelly, who then looked at the recommendations when he stepped into his new role.
The petition that included a request for a “no confidence” vote includes 10 points. Most of the contentions made by the authors concern the lack of faculty involvement in the major changes across the university, including restructuring, the budget, and dual modality — a method of teaching that combines both classroom and online instruction.